Whether you’re applying for a job, work experience or a position in a graduate program, chances are your initial contact will be via email. These days, cover letters, requests and applications are often conducted in writing to be delivered to the recipient’s inbox.
Smarten up your email correspondence by remembering these dos and don'ts.
- Use the subject field to summarise the contents of your email: This helps with categorising your email.
- Address and sign off formally: Err on the side of formal rather than familiar. Start with ‘Dear Mr/Ms/Dr [Surname]’ and end with ‘Sincerely’ or ‘Kind regards’. Their reply (usually less formal) will indicate the level of engagement. Try to stay one notch more formal than that.
- Start a new paragraph for each new idea or action item: Each paragraph should be one to two sentences long and serve a purpose. Don’t waffle, and be as concise as possible. It should be clear who you are/what you want if the recipient only scans the email.
- Check your email before sending it: Make sure your spelling, punctuation and grammar are up to scratch, and also check if attachments are actually attached. You may want to read the email aloud in a neutral voice prior to sending to ensure it makes sense without the context of tone.
- Use an email signature: Even a basic signature with your contact details looks professional. This keeps your contact details at the ready for the recipient.
- Use an email address that may reflect badly on you: Remember that email address you had when you were 15? Don’t use that one for your professional correspondence.
- Use emoticons, slang or curse words: Even if you know the recipient very well, the email may need to be forwarded to others who don’t know you at all. Keep all correspondence as formal as possible.
- Forget why you’re sending the email: The email has a purpose. Make sure everything in it serves that purpose, whether supporting you for a desired role or trying to elicit an answer from someone.
- Pester the recipient: Just because an email is easy to send doesn’t mean you should repeatedly ask for updates. If you are concerned at the lack of response, especially if the recipient said they would get back to you by a certain time, pick up the phone. If the recipient is unavailable, you may be able to talk to someone else.
Learning to use email in a professional manner will serve you well beyond the application stage. Developing good habits now will help you communicate to clients and colleagues in a more effective way.
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